How does it feel to be the first woman to row solo from Japan to Alaska?
For me the goal is to experience the adventure in all its fullness, without being fixated on any records or external recognition. The most important thing was that I docked safely in Alaska with my boat Happy Socks and completed another leg of my London2London expedition.
What inspired the expedition?
I dreamed up my London2London expedition while rowing across the Indian Ocean in 2009, on a solo four-month voyage. It whetted my appetite for a more extensive journey by land and sea. I wanted an adventure, which would teach me about the world and myself.
Cycling, rowing or kayaking, which do you prefer?
That’s like asking someone to choose between their children!
You named your boat Happy Socks; is there a story to that?
The boat’s original first owner had named her ‘Socks’. My Mum knits multi-coloured socks, which I call Happy Socks. I thought by changing the boat’s name slightly, she could have her original name with a good dose of my spirit.
How did you celebrate your 28th birthday at sea?
I opened presents from family and friends, cooked a special meal of curry and naan, and hung balloons and a banner on my boat.
How do you train?
Training involves preparing my mind and body for the challenges ahead. I discuss strategies and anticipated problems with a psychologist. Physically, I do a lot of core conditioning, weights, as well as cross training. For the next phase—a kayaking expedition in 2014—I will be training hard on the water. I will also be foraging and doing survival training so that I can live as close to the land as possible.
What are the major obstacles you have overcome?
Getting an expedition started is a huge challenge–logistically, financially and peoplewise. I am essentially running a business, whilst completing demanding physical expeditions. Once underway, basic things such as team communication are tough, as we are spread across time zones. But I’m lucky to have a great team. After my first attempt and rescue on the Pacific in 2012, I struggled with depression and post traumatic stress. Getting healthy whilst rebuilding the project in time for my 2013 attempt was the biggest challenge of all.
What was the first thing you wanted to do after rowing from Japan to Alaska?
I was keen to get clean, warm and dry. Most of all I looked forward to meeting my fiancée Lucy. I had proposed to her over satellite phone during my trip.
Have you encountered or fought sharks at sea?
I saw one shark during my expedition and felt privileged to be so close to such a magnificant creature. There is no fighting to be done—most wild animals avoid humans.
What’s being caught in a storm like?
My boat is designed to rollover if capsizes, so before a storm I always tidy the boat and fix things down to avoid damage or loss. I have spent many days strapped into the harness on my bed to stay safe during storms. This is tough, as you can’t eat or drink much, it’s cold and wet; and scary!
What was the scariest part of this journey?
Sailing under the bow of a container ship in thick fog was one of the most frightening moments of my life.
What has being alone at sea taught you?
My expeditions reinforce the need to live every moment fully; I know what is worth worrying about and what isn’t. My journeys also emphasise the value of perseverance and taking risks. Being out on the ocean also highlights how fragile our planet is and how we have damaged and plundered it–I saw so much litter out there.
What is your next task?
I am focusing on recovering before planning the next phase in the spring – a 1,500 mile kayaking journey through the Aleutian chain of islands.
Do you plan to visit India?
I would love to come to India. I have links to a charity called Future Hope in Kolkata and have promised I will visit. Realistically, it will happen only after I complete my London2London expedition in 2015, though if I can get out before April, I shall!
Any advice for our readers?
Follow your dreams and make them happen. At least have a go–if you never try, you will never know. Most of all, be true to yourself and good to the world.